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                            100 WEST BY 53 NORTH
                             Jim Prentice
        Copyright 1990, Jim Prentice, Brandon, Manitoba, CANADA
        North of 53. A magic phrase. Spoken, mumbled or thought
   inwardly by thousands of souls venturing northward. An
   imaginary line, shown only on maps and labelled 53 degrees.
   It's presence indicated to highway travellers by road side
        A division of territory as distinct in the mind as any
   international border.
        If you have not been "North of 53", you have not been
        Travellers and writers, poets and pilots, have
   contributed to the lore of the north. The rigors of life in
   the bush are told in tales of man eating mosquitoes, of
   murderous hordes of black flies, of the lumps of flesh
   carried away by the giant bull dog flies.
        The stories of record breaking trout, walleye, and pike
   are legion. There are tales of sights and sounds heard deep
   in the spruce forests:
        The crashing of moose, tearing through brush and
   breaking down trees. The drumming of grouse. The incessant
   hum of insects. The cackling quackery of ducks feeding on
   quiet ponds and placid bays.
        Once heard, the intermittent song of the loon is never
   forgotten. It's voice the signature of authenticity of a
   northern scene.
        If the wildlife in the northern bush land seems
   different than found elsewhere, so is the life of man. It
   takes a special breed of person to live in the north. The
   farther one travels, the more this becomes apparent. The
   Southerner, whether on his first or fiftieth trip north of
   53, never really becomes aware of the implications of
   northern living.
        Generally, the owners of "cottages" on southern lakes
   have more amenities at hand for a weekend of "roughing it"
   than most northern dwellers have on a year round basis.
        The modern cabin on a lake shore near a large
   metropolitan center is equipped with electric service, a
   telephone, paved roads, natural gas pipelines, and cable
        Nearby are services that provide food, fuel, repairs,
   and entertainment. Drivein theaters and fast food chains
   abound. Waterfront businesses have docks built for those
   arriving by boat to do their shopping, laundry, or to
   transfer suitcases from the family car. The local merchants
   deliver goods to the cabin by road or by water.
   Entrepreneurs make a businesss of servicing and maintaining
   cabins during the owners absence in the off seasons.
        Most of these "cottages", whether on the lake shore, or
   located five well paved streets from the water, rival the
   homes of many city dwellers. These lake side communities,
   although seasonal, differ little from the urban living from
   which they offer escape.
        Look at an average northern community. Study and
   compare the standards with those of urban areas and their
   nearby lake side retreats.
        There are no local bus services. If the car doesn't
   start you either walk, or call a taxi. Yes, most areas do
   have a taxi service of one kind or another. Even if it's a
   ride in the back of some one's pick up truck.
        Mail delivery is unknown. A pleasant stroll in
   midsummer is contrasted by an ordeal in life threatening
   conditions during winter.
        House to house delivery of milk and bread is
   nonexistent. Perhaps newspapers are delivered, but it
   requires a family effort, especially in winter.
        Bus, rail and scheduled air services to nearby
   settlements is severely restricted, if available at all.
   Many small taxi companies exist because of the large fares
   collected in the transport of natives to and from the
        Although diminishing in recent years, the bushpilot and
   charter aircraft still play a large role in northern
        The pilots of these small aircraft learn to live with
   conditions that would keep their southern colleagues on the
        In summer they fly float equipped aircraft. They are
   busy hauling trappers, fishermen, freight, fish, furs, and
   supplies to and from the reserves, fish camps, traplines,
   logging areas, and small settlements.
        In the fall, when the ice is too thin for skis, yet too
   thick for floats, they change the aircraft to wheel
   equipment. Changing to skis when ice conditions permit.
        Winter flying presents problems that most pilots never
   hear of. Temperatures exceeding 40 below zero, blowing snow,
   ice crystals, and whiteouts. All these challenge the pilot
   in their daily work. The preheating of engines to coax them
   to life. The problem of congealed oil in propeller pitch
   mechanisms, and fueling with super cooled gasoline are
   regular chores.
        The ski-equipped aircraft must be tied down with ropes
   that are frozen into holes in the four foot ice. The skis
   must be lifted or run onto boards or poles to prevent them
   freezing into the ice.
        Pilots and passengers must wear heavy arctic clothing
   as few aircraft have cabin heat systems capable of coping
   with the cold. Aircraft batteries are removed at the end of
   each day of flying to ensure maximum efficiency the next
   day. Wings and engines are covered to stop the ingress of
   snow and the build up of frost on the flight surfaces.
   Gasoline fueled blow-pots are often carried to provide
   engine preheat to ensure starting. The oil in these engines
   gets so thick at minus 40 to 50 degrees that the engine
   cannot be turned. This writer has done chin-ups on the
   propeller of a coldsoaked Cessna which flew the next day
   after preheating.
        The northern airports lack any degree of services in
   comparison to those farther south. Fuel is usually available
   if you can locate the operator. Some of the larger
   communities may have a pay telephone at the airstrip, but
   the normal procedure is to buzz the town on arrival. This
   lets the people know you are landing and usually someone
   will head out to the strip to meet you.
        Unless you are a regular customer, all transactions for
   fuel and oil are on a cash basis. Cheques are nearly useless
   in a village without a bank. Credit to a stranger is
        During the grip of winter, the snowmobile is the major
   mode of transport in all but the largest of settlements. In
   many places that do have roads in winter, vehicles are left
   running 24 hours a day. If allowed to get cold, it may take
   many hours of effort to restart balky engines.
        Most northern residents enjoy the winter months. The
   change  in seasons brings on a change in activities. The
   boats and motors are stored away with the lawnmowers and
   garden chairs. The snowmobiles are tuned up, ice-fishing
   shacks are towed onto lakes and rivers. The blades of gas-
   powered ice augers are sharpened. The fishermen flock to
   their favorite spots and drill holes through ice up to four
   feet thick.
        Whether in the comfort of a shack with a woodburning
   stove glowing in the center, or huddled on the ice in the
   lee of a snowmobile, they normally take a good catch.
   Walleye, trout, pike, tullibee and whitefish as well as
   perch, burbot, catfish and bass are plentiful. The most
   popular bait is minnows, some use sucker-belly, or net bags
   of trout eggs. Others use metal spoons or large bucktail
   flies, lead-headed jigging lures, or just snelled hooks. As
   in summer, the best bait is whatever the fish are taking at
   the time.
        Moose hunting is another favorite sport, especially in
   the colder weather when the moose are on the move for food
   and warmth. The hunter faces problems similar to the pilot
   with his equipment. The extreme temperatures require that
   his snowmachine be kept in top condition if it is to start
   after a day of hunting. Once started it must be dependable.
   A life and death situation could develop if the machine
   breaks down while 40 or 50 miles from home.
        Even his rifle requires special care. A bolt covered
   with heavy grease will freeze solid in the cold. The firing
   pin may not move when struck by the hammer. Many a moose and
   bear lived to face another day because a hunter's weapon
   failed to operate.
        Other outdoor activities include cross country skiing,
   snowmobiling, and racing dog teams. These sports are
   included in the many winter festivals held each year.
        As spring arrives, the winter equipment is stored away
   and once again the boats and motors are brought out. Wagers
   are made on the time and date of the break up of river ice.
   The snow blowers, shovels, and skidoo suits are replaced
   with lawn mowers, rakes, and bathing suits.
        The pussy willows blossom. The ducks and geese return
   from their winter feeding grounds in the southern U.S.A..
   The frogs begin to croak and the first battalions of
   mosquitoes are hatched.
        From the winter lows of 40 below zero, the mercury
   climbs upward. The summer highs reach the 90's, sometimes
   100 degrees. A fantastic differential of 140 degrees between
        Through the seasons, day to day life continues. The
   sport and commercial fishing, the trapping and hunting. The
   road building, home construction, and landscaping. The
   pilots fly passengers and freight. They fly patrols on
   hundreds of miles of hydro-electric transmission lines and
   forest fire patrols. At regular intervals they carry
   conservationists doing animal census. They transport tanks
   of baby fish to restock the lakes. The seriously ill or
   injured are taken to medical centers by MEDEVAC flights.
        Other flights carry fishermen, and tourists.
   Prospectors vie with geologists, botanists, biologists,
   entomologists, and surveyors. All use the aircraft to see,
   touch, smell, measure and record the wonders of the north.
        The opening day of each hunting or fishing season is
   heralded by the arrival of recreational vehicles of all
   types. Trailers and vans, motorhomes and 4X4's arrive daily.
   They carry or tow boats and motors, bicycles, motorcycles,
   and ATVs. The "first-timers" fill the private and provincial
   government campgrounds. The more experienced and
   adventuresome travel logging roads and bush trails to
           favorite lakes, rivers, and streams.
        In town, the streets and parking lots are crammed with
   vehicles and equipment.
        Gasoline, food, booze, and fishing equipment are sold
   in great quantities.
        The hotels are full. Reservations were made months in
   advance, some were made prior to leaving the year before.
        For a few short weeks, during the prime spring fishing
   period, every available camping spot is occupied.
        As the summer wears on, the sportsmen recede and
   tourists take their place. The cycle repeats annually.
        Each year a number of travellers arrive in privately
   owned aircraft. Piper Cub to Beechcraft. Taildragger to
   bizjet. Most have been here before, to some it is a new
        To a southern pilot, a trip north can be unnerving.
   Accustomed to flying over a network of roads and railroad
   tracks, always in contact with an airport or navigation aid,
   they are seldom prepared for the realities of northern
        Airports are hundreds of miles apart. In most cases
   there are no roads or railways for navigation. At lower
   altitudes, voice contact with an airport is an exception
   rather than the rule.
        Flight plans of course are mandatory. Map reading is
   difficult. There are so many lakes, many of them the same
   basic shape that a sharp eye must be kept on the map.
        For seaplanes, the ever present danger of logs, rocks,
   and reefs is amplified by the distance from civilization.
   Flights must be carefully planned around suitable refueling
        The pilot of a private seaplane is in his own element
   here. The pleasure of landing on a remote lake, its quiet
   green waters undisturbed by others, is indescribable.
            After securing the aircraft and setting up camp, the
   true beauty of the north can be enjoyed.
        Waters teeming with fish, are surrounded by wildlife of
   all types. The smells of wood smoke and coffee mingling with
   the sound of fresh fish sizzling in the frypan.
         The songs of bird life. The cry of the loon. The
   evening wail of coyotes and wolves. The whistle of wings as
   ducks, geese, ravens, hawks, and eagles travel down the
   shoreline. On the lakes are the wakes of passing beaver and
   muskrat. The occasional warning smack of a beaver's tail on
   the water as he senses danger.
        The varied hues of trees, evergreen and deciduous. The
   colors of windflowers. The taste of fresh wild strawberries,
   raspberries, and blueberries.
        The excitement of an evening sky dancing with a
   dazzling display as the Aurora Borealis appears. The
   "Northern Lights" are surrounded by stars, incredibly
   brilliant against the black, smog free heavens.
        Thoughts in the night.... Lying in your tent you hear
   rustling noises. A twig snaps. Mouse or rabbit? Moose or
   bear? Is the food secure? You visualize the food bundle,
   securely tied to a tree branch, high above the ground.
        The wind is rising, you can hear small waves breaking
   on the shore. Is the airplane alright? Should you go and
   check it?
        What will the fishing be like in the morning? Will you
   get another chance to land the big Walleye that you lost to
   day. Or a bigger one?
        A lone mosquito buzzes your ear. Somehow he has
   penetrated the netting of your tent.
        The cry of a loon is the last thing you hear. You sleep
   peacefully until the songs of early morning bird life
   announce the start of a new day.
        But for the constant buzz-sting-slap of insect warfare,
   you might be in heaven.
        Far to the south, your friends and neighbors are also
   facing a new day.
        Howling dogs. Screaming kids. Squealing tires. The wail
   of police and fire sirens. The reek of diesel fumes from
   passing trucks and busses. Telephones jangle and typewriters
   clatter. The work piles up.
         Dissatisfied customers grumble. The boss looms
        They jostle in line for a bus, then for coffee, then
   for lunch. They fight traffic to get home.
        The neighbor's dog has left a deposit on the lawn. The
   children's toys are cluttering the driveway.
        They sit down to a TV dinner and discuss your crazy
   fishing trip.
        The day to day life in the north does have it's
   problems; if you happen to own a car for which there is no
   local dealer, you may have to order parts from hundreds of
   miles away and have them shipped in by bus or plane.
   Meanwhile the car sits. The same applies to appliances,
   tools, and so on.
        There may not be a TV repairman in town. You must send
   the set out for repairs, or, buy a new one. By mail order of
   course. Providing your community has a TV station to begin
        Most northern communities have only one radio station.
   The CBC. Some are augmented by local programming.
        Other services may be difficult to obtain. For example,
   a veterinarian may visit weekly, or monthly, or not at all.
   Medical facilities are usually present to some extent, but
   any serious illness or injury may require a MEDEVAC flight
   to a distant city.
        Fresh meat and produce become more of a problem in the
   more remote areas. If road or rail service exists the
   problem is not too acute. However, in many communities, the
   only access is by air. In this event the shipment of
   perishable commodities is dependant on space available on
   the aircraft. The subsequent prices reflect the added cost
   of the product.
        On the subject of costs, heating a home with propane
   may be five to seven times the cost of natural gas as in
   southern homes. Food, gasoline, clothing, and appliances,
   are considerably more expensive in the north. Of course the
   more remote the location the higher the price.
        On a trip into the high arctic a few years ago the
   prices ran like this:
        Hotel bed $100.00 per night,  per man
        Breakfast (2 eggs, 2 toast,
          2 bacon, and 2 coffee)
        Avgas $7.00 per gallon
        But then, when you are 250 miles north of the arctic
   circle, you expect to pay higher prices.
        Why then, do people live in the north?
        For the natives it is a matter of ancestry. For many
   whites it is also ancestry. To some, they were born there.
   Their parents having moved north for employment reasons.
        Some are transients, following construction jobs and
   other seasonal employment. Others, working for large
   corporations or government, are transferred north as a job
        Life in the north is definitely different. A person
   accustomed to life in a large city may  not endure the
   rigors involved. They give it up and move south.
        Many people, such as myself, move north for an extended
   period. In our case it was 10 years. We adapted to the way
   of life. We enjoyed the hunting and fishing.
        Owning our own aircraft, we were able to travel more
   independently than our neighbors. We enjoyed all the great
   outdoors had to offer. We learned to adjust to the lack of
   night life, and other amenities.
        When 10 years had passed, and our children were adults,
   we took stock of our situation.
        We were stuck in a rut. The same rut that most of the
   townspeople were in. Our lives centered around hunting,
   fishing, the Post Office, and the TV set.
        We decided it was a case of moving now, or possibly
   remaining in the north for the rest of our lives.
        We left in February of 1984!
        We miss the delicious fresh fish from cold clear lakes.
   We miss the taste of thick moose steaks, moosemeat sausages,
   fresh smoked lake trout, and pancakes with fresh, wild
   blueberries. We miss the freedom afforded by a short flight
   to a secluded lake shore.
        The fishing and hunting within 10 miles of our northern
   home was superb. The friendship and camaraderie of our
   neighbors was great.
        We are happy to have had the opportunity to experience
   northern life. But, as we approached the midpoint of our
   lives, we wanted to return to civilization. To pick up where
   we had left off. To enjoy the supermarkets, and shopping
   malls, the fancy restaurants, and gourmet foods. We wanted
   to be closer to the center of things, a few hours drive from
   a major city rather than an all day trip.
        We returned to old friends, and new neighbors. New
   stores, and home mail delivery. Lower prices. Broader
   choices. More to do and see. More TV channels. Several radio
   stations, and newspapers.
        We can drive east or west besides north and south. We
   can dance to live music and eat in restaurants of many
        In short, we are back to civilization
                            THE END
/data/webs/external/dokuwiki/data/pages/archive/stories/100west.txt · Last modified: 2001/11/08 18:57 (external edit)